Meet a mentor preventing HIV and AIDS in Western Kenya

November 20, 2023 by Denise Akun, Oluoch-Madiang’ Daniel, and Jackson Thoya

Evalyn Augi, a determined DREAMS mentor, spearheads HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women in Homa Bay County.

Evalyn Augi, a DREAMS Mentor, distributes condoms and HIV self-test kits. Photo: PATH/Denise Akun.

Evalyn Augi, a DREAMS Mentor, distributes condoms and HIV self-test kits. Photo: PATH/Denise Akun.

In line with the UNAIDS World AIDS Day 2023 theme, the story of Evalyn Augi serves as a powerful illustration of turning the tide in the fight against HIV and AIDS within communities. Evalyn has been a dedicated DREAMS mentor to 60 girls since 2021. She exemplifies the essence of community leadership essential for ending AIDS. Her courageous and lifesaving mission involves not only inspiring vulnerable adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) to protect themselves from getting HIV but also actively providing HIV prevention services to their typical male sex partners. By bringing HIV services closer to AGYW, Evalyn contributes to the core principle of this year's World AIDS Day theme—ensuring community leadership.

Luanda Beach, Western Kenya—On a particularly bright and sunny day, Evalyn Augi bravely confronts the sweltering heat donned in a "USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto DREAMS Mentor" denim apron. Navigating around fishing boats along the pristine sands of Luanda Beach in Homa Bay County, bordering the vast Lake Victoria in Western Kenya, Miss Augi embarks on a vital task.

She is on a courageous, lifesaving mission—to inspire vulnerable AGYW to acquire the knowledge, confidence, and competence to combat HIV, make informed decisions about their health, and deliver HIV prevention messages to both girls and the fisherfolk. Her goal is to destigmatize HIV, bring HIV services closer to AGYW, and encourage them to take the right measures based on their HIV status.

“Many adolescent girls and young women in my village come out here to seek fisherfolk with whom they can engage in sexual activity in exchange for money.”
— Evalyn Augi, a DREAMS Mentor, USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto Project

This poses a significant health risk as most fisherfolk in this HIV hotspot have multiple sexual partners. "The unfortunate reality is that adolescent girls and women often find it difficult to negotiate for safer sex," she explained.

According to the 2020 Kenya AIDS Response Progress Report, at 19.1 percent, Homa Bay County has the highest HIV prevalence in the country—almost fourfold higher than the national average of 4.5 percent. Of particular concern, AGYW constitute nearly a quarter (22 percent) of this burden in the county, emphasizing the significance of unique challenges faced by this age group in the context of HIV prevention and care.

To address this challenge, the government of Kenya is working with the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) initiative. This collaboration is specifically implemented through the USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto in Homa Bay and Migori Counties. The initiative is rolling out a comprehensive approach that focuses on educating adolescent girls and young women, thereby reducing their vulnerability.

“In my community, one of the reasons AGYW are vulnerable is men’s power and privilege over them. I knew reaching out to men would be a challenge because of the stigma and discrimination related to HIV topics.”
— Evalyn Augi, a DREAMS Mentor, USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto Project

Since October 2022, PATH’s USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto project has engaged 721 other mentors like Evalyn who have conducted 682 outreach activities, reaching 18,346 typical male sex partners of AGYW with HIV prevention services and education.

Overall, with a target of 43,275 AGYW, which is 100 percent of the expected reach, the project newly enrolled 20,790 AGYW in 2023 and 5,605 AGYW completed primary packages and graduated from the program. Beyond offering prevention services, the USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto project reached 1,704 AGYW with pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—the daily use of antiretroviral medication by people who do not have HIV but are at risk of getting HIV—protecting them from the risk of HIV infection and provided post gender-based violence clinical services to 1,134. Moreover, the project delivered HIV testing services to 32,363 AGYW, imparted financial capability training to 35,563, and educated 13,037 AGYW on contraceptive methods.

In Luanda Beach, Evalyn reaches up to 50 fisherfolk every time she organizes a community outreach activity. She shares HIV prevention messages to fisherfolk while advocating for the practice of safe sex through the consistent and appropriate use of condoms, which she distributes. She also discusses the importance of male circumcision to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV among heterosexual men and emphasizes the preventive role of PrEP. Additionally, during these interactions, Evalyn facilitates access to HIV testing services and provides self-test kits to the fisherfolk.

“In my community, women are not expected to be vocal on issues like HIV, yet it affects all of us. After my sessions, I get excited to see men take up HIV self-test kits and condoms, which most of them now know how to use. They are more enlightened and aware of their health,” Evalyn said.